The Harvard International Relations Council (HIRC) is one of the oldest and largest student-run organizations at Harvard University. Since its Boston inception in 1953, the HIRC conferences have sprawled the world as they host events in Latin America, China, India, Dubai, and more.
If you’re not familiar with Model United Nations (Model UN or MUN), it’s a conference where students participate in a roleplay delegates of the United Nations and simulate UN committees.
The HIRC team was using an old software product built over ten years ago by a former student. While the software had gotten them this far, it was becoming a bottleneck as the organization began to scale.
Their previous system was multiple clones of a single software system each with a separate server and database. Our goal was to create a single, unified product that could manage numerous conferences and events over the next few years.
The new product required two primary systems: a user-facing system to register and manage applications and an administrative interface to manage applications, committees, and the event.
The new software had to handle complex matching systems. For each conference, the admins would assign countries as part of the Model UN and then create committees and the number of seats each country had within a committee. Schools would register and be assigned a country that fits their delegation size.
Some of the requirements included:
- User registration
- Application workflow and management
- Invoicing and Quickbooks integration
- Committee and country management
- Intelligent assignment recommendations
- Reports and exports
- Multi-level user permissions
The ultimate goal was to build an intelligent, user-friendly web application that would enable the HIRC to easily manage applications and create school assignments for thousands of participants.
We kicked off the project with an in-depth discovery and product strategy phase. We immersed ourselves in Model UN to better understand the purpose, experience, and flow. We conducted a workshop with their team to define our goals, scope out the stories, and build alignment across the entire team.
Creating an intuitive registration process
The application process for one of the HIRC events involves collecting information about the school (or applicant) to approve and assign them as a country. We started by creating wireframes and working through an iterative process to get feedback quickly.
Application Management System
Once we completed the application process, it was time to create an admin dashboard to review and manage applications. Not all applications are accepted. Instead, the HIRC team carefully reviews each application and then approves, waitlists, or denies it based on the application information.
We needed an intuitive and easy-to-use experience for managing the thousands of applications that they receive for each conference. We used a coloring system to identify the status of an application to make it easier at a glance. We also built a search and filtering system to help admins quickly find what they’re looking for.
Committee Assignment System
One of the more challenging problems of this project is the assignment system. When an applicant’s register, they request to be assigned to certain countries. The HIRC team takes these into consideration but ultimately assigns based on the size of the school and the delegation sizes.
We started by creating a system in the backend for admins to create committees and assign countries. The interface had to clearly identify the status of the committee, the number of available seats and the number of open seats. Admins added countries to the committees as necessary for their event. Since this is a mock UN, the system had to be fairly flexible to handle older countries and special characters as well. We designed and built an interface to create, assign, and manage the committees.
Delegate Assignment System
Once a school was assigned committees and countries, they could log in and manage their delegation. The school admin would have to assign delegates to the open spots. The UI was designed to be very intuitive and verbose. We used visual queues to identify tasks to be completed.
School admins could log into their application dashboard to view their assignments and then assign students to the various open delegate spots.
Invoicing and Quickbooks Integration
The HIRC team uses Quickbooks Online (QBO) to invoice and accept payments from the applicants. Unlike tools like Stripe, QBO makes invoicing and customer management much more difficult. We needed a system that handles different types of invoicing for the various conferences. For example, HMUN requires a registration fee when an application is submitted as well as a student and advisor fee once accepted. On the other hand, HNMUN only requires a registration fee if they are accepted while HMUN China does not require a registration fee at all.
We designed a simple solution to integrate with QBO to create invoices, send to users, and then display invoice notifications in their dashboard.
Reporting & Exports
The new custom software solution enabled the HIRC to manage applicants and assignments with ease. But since their conferences were real events, there was a need for reporting and exports to help facilitate the event. We created four primary types of reports:
Each report was exported as a CSV and emailed to the requester. These reports help sign-in attendees at the event, print badges, and manage the event properly.
Our development process was agile and involved bi-weekly sprints. We met with the HIRC team often to get feedback, showcase our progress, and ensure we’re building the right product. We launched the MVP in early May of 2019 and then continued to develop and launch new features. We worked collaboratively with the HIRC team to get feedback and implement changes.
The results have been exceptional so far. The new product is live, and four conferences are already accepting and managing applications.
The new custom software has helped the HIRC team automate processes and save time managing each conference. Here is an overview of some of the results.
- Invoice automation and Quickbooks integration saves their team weeks of work in handling taxes and reconciliation
- Simplifies management and prioritization of early applications
- Applicant workflow speeds up application management
- Automatic report exports save huge amounts of time for each event
- Committee and country assignment times have reduced drastically as the UI visualizes everything
- New user experience makes our application more inclusive of non-English speakers.
- Workflow has improved since the new admin interface has launched
The new product has helped the HIRC team transform the way they manage events. They can quickly do tasks that used to take hours while managing applications.
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